VU’s Gray has traveled the U.S., but now he may see the world with Team USA

Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 11:59pm
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Vanderbilt hurler Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray has traveled the country in recent summers as a member of various all-star and All-America teams. This year he has been given the opportunity to represent his country and to see different parts of the world.

In the wake of his freshman season at Vanderbilt, the right-handed pitcher is one of 41 invitees by USA Baseball to the National Team trials, which begin this week.

By June 24, a roster of 22 players will be selected. That group then will play a series of international exhibitions before it takes part in the USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship (July 11-16 in Japan) and the World Baseball Challenge (July 18-26 in British Columbia).

“It’s real exciting,” Gray said. “I don’t think its really going to set in until I go out there and experience it, get with the coaches and get started with the tryout. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Smyrna High School product traveled to Cary, N.C. on Sunday. He said he is expected to pitch two innings on Tuesday, the first of four days during training camp when the team is scheduled to scrimmage.

Two of this year’s Team USA assistant coaches — Rob Cooper of Wright State and Dan McDonnell of Louisville — saw him pitch first-hand during the season. Gray handled the ninth inning on March 25, when Vanderbilt defeated Wright State 4-0, and then threw eight shutout innings as a starter against Indiana in an NCAA regional tournament contest May 30 at Louisville.

For the season Gray was 5-1 with a 4.30 ERA and a team-high five saves. He struck out 72 and walked 20 in 58.2 innings.

“I wish our team could have gone a little farther, but I feel like I was throwing well there at the end,” he said.

Vanderbilt has established a connection with the national over the past five seasons, particularly when it comes to pitchers. Team USA’s staff has included at least one member of the Commodores in each of the last five summers.

David Price and Mike Minor each made the team following their freshman seasons. Price was a Baseball America Summer All-America following his participation in 2005, and Minor was named USA Baseball’s summer player of the year in 2008.

The run started in 2004 with Ryan Mullins, who that summer was one of five pitchers who combined for a no-hitter against Canada. It was the U.S. national team’s first no-hitter in almost 20 years.

Pitcher Casey Weathers (2006), third baseman Pedro Alvarez (2006-07) and shortstop Ryan Flaherty (2007) also earned spots in recent years.

Before Mullins, the only Vanderbilt player ever to make the national team was pitcher Mark Prior in 1999.

“(Minor) said it was fun, it’s just long,” Gray said, “Tryouts are fun. … He told me a little of what to expect, but said it changes from year-to-year. He said it changed from his first year to his second year.

“He told me just to go out there and pitch like I always have and that it should work out for me.”